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Rosie DiManno: Lawyers debate diversity and come up with … confusion

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“Is it possible to appeal on your ruling that the previous appeal was unappealable? It has appeal.”

Try unpacking that tortured knot of legalese! Even if, I suspect, it was delivered somewhat tongue in cheek.

But that’s the loop-the-loop tone of discourse you get when 40 lawyers are packed into a room at Osgoode Hall — benchers of the Law Society of Ontario — engaged in a fundamental debate about diversity ideals versus compelled speech. Viewpoints sincerely, even passionately, held.

An assembly of counsellors-at-law (which may be an Americanism) representing upwards of 50,000 members of the bar in Ontario and some 8,000 paralegals, or “licensees” in the stiff-necked vernacular.

That’s roughly the populace of Welland-Pelham.

And, when the mind wanders, as it does, one imagines a city entirely populated by lawyers: lawyer-cleaners, lawyer-chefs, lawyer-teachers, lawyer-engineers, lawyer-nurses, lawyer-reporters, lawyer-strippers.

An Emerald City of litigation.

The colour purple, however, designated a fault line on Thursday at the first gathering of the LSO’s newly elected benchers — directors — with the pro side, some of them, flashing bits of purple on lapel buttons and ties and shirts.

Purple is the palette swatch for diversity.

The crux of the thing: A controversial requirement that every lawyer in the province must adopt a statement of principles (SOP), to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally and in their behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.”

That might seem benign, progressive in a bumper-sticker way, and hardly deserving of objection. But it’s the compelling part that has stuck in the craw for many as a jackboot imposition on freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, freedom of values and purportedly as being unconstitutional.

Enough so that the statement of principles approved, in late 2016 triggered a polarizing rift within the Law Society and clearly influenced the May election of the board’s new benchers — the entire slate of StopSOP candidates voted........

© Toronto Star